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Could Matuas, a Migrant Community from Erstwhile East Pakistan, Turn the Tables for BJP?

The community was a key force behind Mamata Banerjee’s triumph over the 34-year-old Left-Front government in the 2011 assembly election.

Sujit Nath | News18

Updated:January 29, 2019, 9:53 PM IST
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Could Matuas, a Migrant Community from Erstwhile East Pakistan, Turn the Tables for BJP?
BJP president Amit Shah addressing a rally in Malda, West Bengal.
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Kolkata: In this sleepy hamlet of Bengal, it’s not Mamata, but ‘Matua’, something that could perhaps change the game in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections for both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP.

Located nearly 70km from Kolkata, Thakurnagar (in North 24-Parganas district) is the headquarters of the ‘Matua Mahasangha’, a religious reformation movement that was led by the late Harichand Thakur.

The place Thakurnagar is named after Harichand’s great-grandson late Pramath Ranjan Thakur and falls under the Bongaon Lok Sabha constituency where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to address a gathering on February 2.

With nearly 65-67 per cent Matua voters, Bongaon is one of the 42 seats in Bengal where both the parties are eyeing a victory by convincing the Thakur matriarch Binapani Devi Thakur, popularly known as ‘Boroma’ (elder mother), to be by their side.

Boroma has a huge sway over the Namashudra (Dalit) community, which migrated in large numbers from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) after Partition. She is the widow of Pramath Ranjan Thakur.

The community was a key force behind Mamata Banerjee’s triumph over the 34-year-old Left-Front government in the 2011 assembly election.

Since then, the Trinamool Congress has had Boroma’s blessings during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2016 assembly election.

There are at least 15 other Lok Sabha constituencies, including Krishnanagar, Ranaghat, Malda North, Malda South, Burdwan East, Burdwan West, Silguri, Cooch Behar, Raiganj and Joynagar, where the average voting percentage of Matuas is between 35-40%.

This is precisely one of the reasons why Modi and other BJP heavyweights like Yogi Adityanath and Rajnath Singh, armed with the Citizenship Amendment Bill, have decided to address rallies in all the Matua-dominated areas as the community seeks to regain its lost identity.

BJP chief Amit Shah has recently announced the citizenship bill will be one of the main agendas for the party in West Bengal in the upcoming general elections.

Speaking to News18, political expert and litterateur Kapil Thakur said, “Both the BJP and Trinamool have managed to create a rift in Boroma’s family. Trinamool had fielded Pramatha Ranjan Thakur’s son Manjul Krishna Thakur in 2011 and made him a minister. Later, following differences, he resigned. The cracks became prominent after his son, Shantanu Thakur, was arrested in a law and order case. Many are of the opinion Shantanu’s incarceration was politically motivated by the ruling party. The BJP saw an opportunity in this and managed to win Shantanu’s confidence.”

Realising that this could hamper Trinamool’s equation, Mamata fielded Pramatha Ranjan’s other son Kapil Krishna Thakur from Bongaon in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. After his death, his wife Mamata Thakur contested and won on a ruling party ticket.

This time, the BJP is likely to field Shantanu, who is the vice-president of the the All India Matua Mahasangha (AIMM).

Shantanu said, “For the last 72 years, our community has been deprived. Not a single political party has actually thought about our welfare. Though we have voting rights, we are not considered citizens. In August, 2018, we met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi with several of our demands, including a welfare board and job quotas, and he has assured us of full cooperation. This is the reason we are supporting him and his rally in Bongaon.”

At present, those who entered India without any migration documents after July 19, 1948, will be termed ‘illegal immigrants’.

A majority of the Matuas fall in this category and if the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is implemented in Bengal, like in Assam, they would have to leave India or would be lodged in detention centres (something similar that is happening in the neighbouring state).

“Now the catch is, on one hand, the BJP is creating an atmosphere of fear among them in the name of NRC, while on the other, it is assuring them there is nothing to worry as they are with them. Hence, they should help the party pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, pending before the Rajya Sabha. It’s like asking the Matuas to vote for them as the BJP is the one which can bail them out from this long-pending issue,” Kapil Thakur said.

The proposed legislation seeks to provide citizenship to illegal migrants facing religious persecution in their country of origin.

This mainly includes Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who are facing religious persecution in their country of origin. The Bill also plans to change the requirement of continuous stay in the country to six years to obtain citizenship by naturalisation.

On February 2, the Prime Minister will address the rally at Thakurnagar’s Kamanasagar ground.

When asked about his aunt Mamata Thakur, Shantanu said, “She is least bothered about the welfare of Matuas. We are the true soldiers of Harichand Thakur. We are fighting to regain our lost dignity. We will support those who will join hand in this struggle. Those who are power hungry are responsible for the rift in the family.”

Mamata Thakur said, “These are baseless allegations. There are some people in the family who are on the wrong track and are sending a wrong message to the people.”

Regarding Modi’s rally at Thakurnagar, she said, “Let him address the rally. The Matua community is with me and this time too, we are winning with a huge margin.”

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